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Using a Tablet with Lightroom

September 10, 2008 | | Comments 6

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is already a very efficient software program. It has greatly increased my productivity, especially when dealing with large numbers of images from a single shoot. One of the ways to increase this productivity even more is through the use of a tablet.

Wacom Graphire Wireless Tablet

Wacom Graphire Wireless Tablet

What is a tablet?

A tablet or pen tablet is an input device which allows you to use a pen on a flat surface to control the cursor on your computer screen. Typically, these devices include the pen, a mouse, and the flat tablet. The tablets can connect to your computer via a USB cable or wirelessly via Bluetooth technology like the Graphire Wireless tablet.

Wacom Cintiq Tablet

Wacom Cintiq Tablet

When you hover over the tablet surface with the pen, it’s like dragging your mouse along to move the cursor. When you rest the pen on the surface of the tablet, it’s similar to clicking and dragging. Different tablet models have different features including programmable buttons on the tablet itself and on the pen, scroll/zoom bars on the tablet, hundreds or thousands of different levels of pressure sensitivity for very detailed painting effects, pen tilt sensitivity, a virtual “eraser” on the back of the tablet, and even a monitor display as the tablet so you can draw directly on whatever you’re looking at on the screen (as in the Cintiq tablet). Pretty cool, eh?

Do I really need a tablet?

The short answer, of course, is no. Photographers who do lots of retouching work in Adobe Photoshop or graphic designers are usually a big fans of tablets, but if you’re doing most or all of your work in Lightroom, then a tablet may not be for you. Most of the time, I’m just using keyboard shortcuts to move around and using my mouse as little as possible. (By the way, have you read our article on Useful Keyboard Shortcuts in Lightroom?)

That being said, when you get to local corrections in Lightroom (Local Adjustment Brush, Gradient Tool, Spot Removal Tool, Red-Eye Removal Tool, etc.), a tablet really shines. I do find that, if I have my tablet hooked up to my computer when I’m in Lightroom, I enjoy using it, even outside of local adjustments.

So my final advice is, if all you ever use is Lightroom, don’t spend the money on a tablet unless you’ve previously used one and love it. If you get into Photoshop occasionally (which all good Lightroom users should), go for it. You’ll probably grow to love your tablet. Just know that it takes some commitment and practice when you first start using it. Just stick with it, and you’ll soon be a natural.

Which tablet to buy?

If you’re going to spend the money on a tablet, then you need to purchase a Wacom brand tablet. They are the ones that any professional would use. There are four main models.

Wacom Intuos3 Tablet

Wacom Intuos3 Tablet

  • Bamboo/Bamboo Fun – Entry-level model. Not as sensitive as other models.
  • Graphire Wireless – Nice. Wireless (obviously). I prefer the customizable buttons on the Intuos, and I don’t really want to deal with the wireless thing.
  • Intuos3 – This is the model I like. Rugged, plenty of features, fast, etc. I like the 6×8 size.
  • Cintiq – Sweet! These are essentially monitors with tablet capability. You can draw right on the screen. Too expensive and bulky for my use, but I certainly wouldn’t turn one down if you bought it for me. It’s on my long-term wish list.

Using a Tablet in Lightroom

Let’s get down to business now. For me, tablets are most helpful in the Develop Module, particularly when doing local adjustments such as the Gradient Tool, Local Adjustment Brush, Spot Removal Tool, and Red-Eye Removal tool. A tablet works fine everywhere else in Lightroom, too, but we’ll look specifically at the local adjustments for now.

Local Adjustment Brush

This is definitely my favorite place to use a tablet in Lightroom. You have much more finesse in your brush strokes with a tablet than you do with a mouse. Here are a few tips and observations.

  • Easily re-size your brush. If your tablet is equipped with a touch strip or scroll wheel, use it to re-size your brush on the fly.
  • Pressure sensitivity works. Pressing harder while painting increases your flow. Just leave the flow slider set at 100 and use the amount of pressure you apply with the pen determine the flow.
  • The eraser does not work. Some tablets have pens with a virtual “eraser” on one end. In Photoshop, the eraser typically functions like the eraser tool (strange, eh?). In Lightroom, it doesn’t work that way. In my tests, it functions the same no matter what end of the pen you use. No problem, though. Hold the Alt or Option key on your keyboard while painting to erase. Let it go to return to the brush.
Gradient Tool

No special tricks here. It’s just much easier to drag out and adjust your gradients with a tablet.

Spot Removal Tool

Not a whole lot different here, either. It’s much easier to maneuver around with the tablet. You can use the touch strip, again, to re-size your spot removal tool.

Red-Eye Removal Tool

The Eye-Removal Tool works about the same as the Spot Removal Tool, when it comes to using your tablet. The touch strip will re-size the tool, but I prefer just clicking in the center of the pupil and dragging out.

Other Places to Use Your Tablet in Lightroom

You can use the tablet anywhere you’d use your mouse or trackpad. Here’s one little tip. Now, before you flood us with comments about how this isn’t the most efficient way to do this, let me say “I know.” But, it’s Lightroom, so why not experiment with metadata-based image signing?

We’re going to autograph an image for use in a slideshow, print, or web album.

  1. Select an image and take it to the Develop Module (D or Cmd/Ctrl-Opt/Alt-2)
  2. Get the Local Adjustment Brush (K)
  3. From the Effect drop-down menu, choose Color.
  4. Choose Color from the Effect drop-down menu.

    Choose Color from the Effect drop-down menu.

  5. Click on the color picker and choose a color that will contrast with the area of your image you’d like to write on. In this case, we’re choosing red.
  6. Choose a color to paint with.

    Choose a color to paint with.

  7. Change the brush settings to something like:
    • Size: 0.2
    • Feather: 0
    • Flow: 100
    • Auto Mask: Unchecked
    • Density: 100
    Brush Settings

    Brush Settings

  8. Using your tablet, sign your image (or write whatever you’d like on it).
My Signed Image (my handwriting is awful)

My Signed Image (my handwriting is awful)

Now you have signed your image in a completely non-destructive, metadata-only method. Interesting.

Have some other tablet tips? Leave a comment.

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About the Author: Scott Rouse is an Adobe Certified Expert (ACE), photographer, teacher, and graphic- and web-designer in Missoula, MT. His photography focuses on wildlife and adventure sports and can be viewed at ScottRousePhotography.com. His design and consulting work can be seen at ScottRouseDigital.com.